Born to Read

Born to Read serves the Maine Humanities Council’s youngest audiences—children up to age five—through the people who take care of them. With trainings for early childhood professionals and volunteer readers, Born to Read helps caregivers use books to provide children with the stimulating experiences needed to take advantage of the important birth-through-three period in every child’s life (during which, brain research has proven, a child learns more than half of what he or she will learn throughout a lifetime).

FOCUS: Skowhegan

Each week, children in child care facilities across Maine receive visits from grandparent figures whose presence makes a huge difference in their lives. Take Tricia Wurpel and the children at Peek-A-Boo Child Care, for example.

Tricia leaves her home wearing one sandal and one sneaker. As soon as she arrives at Peek-A-Boo Child Care in Skowhegan, the children spot this discrepancy and begin to giggle. Soon they calm down, and Tricia knows they are now ready to listen to the picture books she has brought to read. (It is no coincidence that this week the books are all about shoes.)

Wearing something silly is just one trick in Tricia’s repertoire of strategies for bringing books to life at Peek-A-Boo, where she has been a Born to Read volunteer for more than two years. After reading Counting Crocodiles, a folktale by Judy Sierra, she helped the children make puppets out of paper bags and reenact the adventures of the tale’s trickster hero. The puppets—and the presence of a special reader—made the story so exciting to the children that they recalled it almost word-for-word a week later.

Since 1997, Born to Read has worked with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to create a network of older adults who read aloud weekly in child care programs and preschools. Books and early literacy trainings enable volunteers to have a considerable impact on the children they visit.

Tricia Wurpel believes that “the Born to Read program is vital to awakening the joy of reading in our young people. After spending time with the children, I feel like I have more energy and a happier heart.” That belief in the program explains why she drove all the way to Portland in early May to attend a Born to Read conference, where she was inspired by author/illustrator Ashley Bryan “not to be timid in expressing myself through my reading. I now try to bring excitement to the story and breathe life into the characters of the book.”

Children at Peek-A-Boo in Skowhegan with cute paper hats

Children at Peek-A-Boo in Skowhegan, a child care program served by volunteer reader, Patricia Wurpel.

photo: patricia wurpel
“I have a very shy 3-year-old. When our volunteer read, this little girl stayed at a distance. Over a matter of months she would inch her way closer to the volunteer. Two weeks ago she sat right beside her. The volunteer continued to read to her after all the other children had gone to do other things. This little girl now sits on the couch to be read to.”
– Preschool Teacher in Saco
In 2005: Born to Read held programs for over 400 people in 50 towns across Maine (serving more than 5,000 children), and gave away 5,328 beautiful books.
Linden Thigpen, as she reads to a rapt crowd at Rubber Ducky Daycare in South Portland.

A typical reaction to the Born to Read volunteer reader, Linden Thigpen, as she reads to a rapt crowd at Rubber Ducky Daycare in South Portland.

photos: brita zitin